Category: Teen

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (9781481438254)

Released October 24, 2017.

When Will’s older brother Shawn is murdered in front of him, Will knows what he has to do. He follows the rules that Shawn taught him. No crying. No snitching. Get revenge. So Will gets a gun out of Shawn’s dresser in the room that they used to share and heads out of the apartment. But on his ride down to the lobby in the elevator, Will finds himself on a unique experience. On the sixth floor, Buck enters the elevator. Buck, who gave Shawn the gun that Will has in his pants waist. Buck, who had been killed. As the elevator continues down floor by floor, other dead people enter. There is the girl that Will saw killed when he was a child. There are family members who were killed. All of them followed the rules. All of them have a message for Will. All share Will’s story, but how will his story end?

This book is quite simply a masterpiece. Written in verse that captures the guilt, sadness and fear of all of the losses and the violence on the streets, the book sings a mournful cadence that gets into your blood. It’s a book that you can’t stop thinking about. One that asks far more questions than it answers, asking both Will and the reader about what they would do. Nothing presented here is simple or clear. It is all muddled, confusing, filled with grief and loss, revenge and pain.

It takes a great author to craft a story in an elevator. Write it in verse that soars, then tighten the experience to one room, one long ride into the future and choices that have to be made. The verse is exceptional, the voice of Will and his ghosts are a clarion call to peace and breaking the rules. But can Will hear them in time?

Moving and deep, this verse novel is one of the best. Get this into the hands of teens, particularly reluctant readers who will discover they love poetry after all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (9781481487726)

Kiko struggles to find her own voice in many ways. She can’t seem to be herself in crowds, even small ones. She certainly can’t tell her mother what she actually thinks, particularly when her mother lets her uncle return to their home after Kiko had accused him of molesting her as a child. It is only in her art that Kiko tells her own story and speaks the truth. She plans to finally get away from her mother by attending art school in New York City. When she doesn’t get in, Kiko is trapped in a life of seeing her molester in her home, being with her horrible mother, and seeing her best friend head off to school. That is when a childhood friend comes back into her life and she begins to see what a future filled with art and honesty looks like.

I read only the first few lines of this debut book and realized that I had tumbled into the world created by a very talented storyteller. It is a world of abusive mothers, where the abuse is emotional rather than physical. Bowman draws the abuse clearly and subtly, allowing readers to realize the depths of the damage along with Kiko herself as her mother not only fails to protect her but also hurts her directly. It is a world of art, where art pieces end each chapter, the image capturing the emotions that Kiko was just feeling with an accuracy that lets you see it before your eyes.

This is a book that explores being different, particularly Kiko, who is half Japanese and half Caucasian, looking different than her blonde mother. Her mother has specific cruelties related to Kiko’s appearance that are particularly awful. As Kiko begins to think for herself, readers will be able to start breathing along with her and see just how strong Kiko is as a young woman on her own.

A book that celebrates individuality, art and survival, this novel is fresh and deeply moving. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness (9780062403193)

Adam is facing one big day, but it’s about to get even stranger and more important than he can imagine. He can’t seem to get over his last boyfriend, Enzo, who treated him poorly and then dumped him. Tonight is Enzo’s going-away party, and Adam is taking his current boyfriend, Linus, who he can’t quite fall in love with. Meanwhile, Adam manages to find out his saintly brother has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, get groped by his horrible boss, and spend time with his best friend, Angela who has news of her own. Will Adam be brave enough to just let go?

Threaded throughout the realistic story is another more mythical tale of a murdered girl, an ancient queen, and a faun who guides and guards them both. Their tale starts out startlingly different but along the way weaves itself into Adam’s world and life too, offering a tangible link to the wonder of belief and the question of what reality really is.

Ness has created a fantastic novel that celebrates a day in the life of a teenage boy who is lost and yet also found on the same day. Ness deftly shows the impact on religion and beliefs, tearing Adam’s family into pieces. He also offers one of the best gay sex scenes in teen novels today. The entire book is gorgeously written and full of playful touches that make the book all the more real and deliciously fun.

A successful and sexy mix of LGBT realism and magic, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green (9781941302415)

A harrowing look at anorexia from its very beginnings as a child through to new adulthood and its lingering effects even after recovery, this graphic novel is frank and honest about the illness. A personal memoir, Green tells the story of herself as a child in England being a picky eater and her parents trying to make her eat, of hiding food from them. As a teen, she became anorexic to the point of near death and potential hospitalization. She was pulled from school in order to regain her health. With the help of a nontraditional therapist, Katie did recover but only to find that he had been abusing her. Now her recovery was in peril and she began binge eating to stop the thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed her. Through a slow new recovery, Katie came to terms with food, emotions and being good to herself.

I read this book in a single sitting, unable to turn away from Katie’s very personal story of illness, recovery, setbacks and recovery once more. It’s not a small graphic novel, coming in at over 500 pages but once you begin it, it’s impossible to not know what happens to Katie in the end. She puts an incredibly human face on anorexia, showing readers an amazing vulnerability and strength on every page.

The art here is handled with a delicacy and subtlety that suits the subject well. Small changes in background color, show the difference between memory and current time in the story. The illness of anorexia is shown as a black cloud of tangled lines that follows Katie wherever she goes and takes over entire panels on the page. It is a particularly effective choice so that readers can see the struggle as something tangible.

Heartfelt and vibrantly personal, this graphic novel takes on difficult subjects with grace and care. Appropriate for ages 14-18. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Lion Forge.)

 

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (9780374304904)

Mothers and daughters fill the pages of this novel for teens that focuses on three generations of a Bengali family. Tara and Sonia are sisters born in India and who are moving to the United States from England with their parents. The two girls are very different from one another. Tara loves to act and works to figure out who she can pretend to be in this new environment. Sonia enjoys debate and falls for a boy whom her mother cannot accept. When their father dies unexpectedly, their family fractures even farther. As both sisters find men to love them for the modern women they are, they too have daughters. Chantal is a skilled dancer and athlete, who falls for a wealthy all-American boy. Anna grew up in India primarily, and finds herself in high school in America. She is like her Aunt Sonia and always willing to debate. As the women in this family come to accept one another and their life choices, Ranee grows older but still remains involved in everyone’s life even as she becomes more American herself.

This book is simply stellar. Nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this novel is exceptional in many ways. First, there is the writing by Perkins. It is writing of strength and knowledge, but amazingly unobtrusive too, allowing the story to unfold naturally for the reader. She ties repeating themes into the book: music and dance, diversity and romance. Perkins allows her characters to be racist and yet to learn, to change over the course of time, and to have their opinions and values change as well. This is a difficult thing to accomplish in a novel, giving characters a way forward rather than being villains or one-dimensional.

The five female characters are exceptionally well drawn. Readers will be enthralled with all of their stories, the tale of Ranee herself tying the entire book together in the end. The characteristics of family members are celebrated: passion, intelligence, caring and more. These create a wholeness for the family, a feeling of generations being different but also alike despite clothes, life styles and decisions they make. There is a solidity to this family, one that reads with clarity and honesty and feels like home.

A triumph of a novel for teens that celebrates family, diversity and love. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

(Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (9780316349000)

Suzette has been in New England at boarding school for the last school year. Now she has returned back home to her family in Los Angeles. She has missed the city itself, but even more so she has missed her stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during the summer decides to stop taking his medication. He starts dating a girl that Suzette also finds compelling and interesting, but Suzette worries that the girl isn’t good for Lionel. Meanwhile, Suzette is dealing with discovering that she is bisexual, having had her first relationship with a girl while at board school that did not end well. Back at home, she begins to date Emil, a longtime friend of her family. Suzette is the only one who knows of Lionel stopping his medication and the secret becomes a problem as Lionel reaches a crisis.

Colbert has created a beautiful novel that speaks to the complexities of mental illness. The reaction of friends is well drawn, showing how people pull away from those diagnosed with mental illness and yet want to talk about them too. Lionel is a great character, someone the reader and Suzette gravitates to and yet someone who is battling a mental illness profoundly and pushes people away. He is in turns riveting and maddening.

Suzette’s character is the center of the novel and she is wonderfully crafted. An African-American protagonist who has converted to Judaism when her mother married Lionel’s father, she is someone who has to make choices about what she shares about herself and what battles she decides to engage in. Suzette is just discovering her bisexuality and even hesitates to label herself that way at first. The depiction of sexuality in the book and sex is handled with honesty and without bias. It’s lovely to see it handled that way with both girls and boys.

A very special book for teens, this book is diverse and filled with moments of triumph and pain. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu (9780399547966)

Warcross is an international obsession, augmented reality and a video game world combined into something that everyone uses every day. Emika though has troubles in the real world making ends meet, paying her rent. She works as a bounty hunter, finding the criminals that the police don’t have time to trace. Then in Warcross, she uses a hacked account to make quick money there. But when her hack accidentally makes her visible in the middle of the Warcross Championships, her life changes. She gains the attention of the enigmatic Hideo, the man who created Warcross. There is someone else hacking into Warcross and threatening the games, Hideo hires Emika to trace the intruder. To gain access to the games, Emika is given a wild card slot and moved to Tokyo. In the middle of comfort and ease for the first time, Emika finds herself on a team for the first time, falling in love and playing an illegal game alongside the legal one. Now she has to race time to find her prey and stop their plot.

Writing novels about video games is difficult. It’s hard to figure out how to make hacking and video game code concrete enough for readers to be able to follow. Cleverly, Lu uses her augmented reality subject to allow readers to visualize hacking, code and the dark web. The video game subject is strengthened by the mystery and bounty hunting in both the virtual and real worlds. It also plays beautifully against the romance that Emika discovers, heightening the pressure she is under and giving her someone to truly care about.

Emika is a great protagonist. Smart and savvy, she is not one to make mistakes that anyone else would make. Still, she is wonderfully flawed in her lack of trust of others and her isolation. As she makes her mark on both the real and online worlds, her fame grows but never really touches Emika. This is not a book about video game fame or even playing video games. Rather it is about the power of virtual worlds, the temptation of technology and how it changes us as humans.

Powerful and timely, this novel will be enjoyed by gamers of all types. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

ARC provided by Putnam.